A dream of one tsar, St Petersburg was built in a marshland and celebrated the triumph of a modern civilisation over primeval wetlands. The new imperial capital was meant to be the idealised version of a European city in the eyes of Tsar Peter the Great with a sea port and a fortress to protect it from the Swedes. Its long straight avenues lined with stone houses and criss-crossed by canals had to be the opposite of Moscow with its chaotic maze of medieval streets dotted with wooden houses and surrounded by outdated city walls. But while for Pushkin it was 'the Gem of the Northern World', Dostoevsky saw it as 'that rotten, slimy city'. The city of fabled White Nights built on a hundred of islands is also renowned for its dreary weather, with strong winds from the gulf and the fog that seems to never dispel entirely.
The former imperial city may have lost its status as a capital but not its grandeur and pride. And yet there's a certain sense of alienation and anachronism in today's St Petersburg. All those luxurious baroque, rococo, neoclassical and art nouveau palaces and mansions have lost their status and their owners, and now house museums, hotels, apartments, restaurants and offices. They never fit the place perfectly but this irregularity is somewhat charming.
Today, St Petersburg is home to some of the best and the largest museums in the entire world. It's also the city with vibrant food scene and innovative restaurants which are always one step ahead of Moscow.